Lady Anna, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 15

Wharfedale

The visit to Wharfedale was fixed for Monday and Tuesday, and on the Monday morning they started, after an early breakfast. The party consisted of Aunt Jane, Aunt Julia, Lady Anna, Minnie, and Mr Cross, one of the rector’s curates. The rector would not accompany them, excusing himself to the others generally on the ground that he could not be absent from his parish on those two days. To his wife and sister he explained that he was not able, as yet, to take pleasure in such a party as this with Lady Anna. There was no knowing, he said, what might happen. It was evident that he did not mean to open his heart to Lady Anna, at any rate till the marriage should be settled.

An open carriage which would take them all was ordered — with four post-horses, and two antiquated post-boys, with white hats and blue jackets, and yellow breeches. Minnie and the curate sat on the box, and there was a servant in the rumble. Rooms at the inn had been ordered, and everything was done in proper lordly manner. The sun shone brightly above their heads, and Anna, having as yet received no further letter from her mother, was determined to be happy. Four horses took them to Bolton Bridge, and then, having eaten lunch and ordered dinner, they started for their ramble in the woods.

The first thing to be seen at Bolton Abbey is, of course, the Abbey. The Abbey itself, as a ruin — a ruin not so ruinous but that a part of it is used for a modern church — is very well; but the glory of Bolton Abbey is in the river which runs round it and in the wooded banks which overhang it. No more luxuriant pasture, no richer foliage, no brighter water, no more picturesque arrangement of the freaks of nature, aided by the art and taste of man, is to be found, perhaps, in England. Lady Anna, who had been used to wilder scenery in her native county, was delighted. Nothing had ever been so beautiful as the Abbey — nothing so lovely as the running Wharfe! Might they not climb up among those woods on the opposite bank? Lord Lovel declared that, of course they would climb up among the woods — it was for that purpose they had come. That was the way to the Stryd — over which he was determined that Lady Anna should be made to jump.

But the river below the Abbey is to be traversed by stepping-stones, which, to the female uninitiated foot, appear to be full of danger. The Wharfe here is no insignificant brook, to be overcome by a long stride and a jump. There is a causeway, of perhaps forty stones, across it, each some eighteen inches distant from the other, which, flat and excellent though they be, are perilous from their number. Mrs Lovel, who knew the place of old, had begun by declaring that no consideration should induce her to cross the water. Aunt Julia had proposed that they should go along the other bank, on the Abbey side of the river, and thence cross by the bridge half a mile up. But the Earl was resolved that he would take his cousin over the stepping-stones; and Minnie and the curate were equally determined. Minnie, indeed, had crossed the river, and was back again, while the matter was still being discussed. Aunt Julia, who was strong-limbed, as well as strong-minded, at last assented, the curate having promised all necessary aid. Mrs Lovel seated herself at a distance to see the exploit; and then Lord Lovel started, with Lady Anna, turning at every stone to give a hand to his cousin.

“Oh, they are very dreadful!” said Lady Anna, when about a dozen had been passed.

The black water was flowing fast, fast beneath her feet; the stones became smaller and smaller to her imagination, and the apertures between them broader and broader.

“Don’t look at the water, dear,” said the lord, but come on quick.”

“I can’t come on quick. I shall never get over. Oh, Frederic!” That morning she had promised that she would call him Frederic. Even Daniel could not think it wrong that she should call her cousin by his Christian name. “It’s no good, I can’t do that one — it’s crooked. Mayn’t I go back again?”

“You can’t go back, dear. It is only up to your knees, if you do go in. But take my hand. There — all the others are straight — you must come on, or Aunt Julia will catch us. After two or three times, you’ll hop over like a milkmaid. There are only half a dozen more. Here we are. Isn’t that pretty?”

“I thought I never should have got over. I wouldn’t go back for anything. But it is lovely; and I am so much obliged to you for bringing me here. We can go back another way?”

“Oh, yes — but now we’ll get up the bank. Give me your hand.” Then he took her along the narrow, twisting, steep paths, to the top of the wooded bank, and they were soon beyond the reach of Aunt Julia, Minnie, and the curate.

It was very pleasant, very lovely, and very joyous; but there was still present to her mind some great fear. The man was there with her as an acknowledged lover — a lover, acknowledged to be so by all but herself; but she could not lawfully have any lover but him who was now slaving at his trade in London. She must tell this gallant lord that he must not be her lover and, as they went along, she was always meditating how she might best tell him, when the moment for telling him should come. But on that morning, during the entire walk, he said no word to her which seemed quite to justify the telling. He called her by sweet, petting names — Anna, my girl, pretty coz, and such like. He would hold her hand twice longer than he would have held that of either aunt in helping her over this or that little difficulty — and would help her when no help was needed. He talked to her, of small things, as though he and she must needs have kindred interests. He spoke to her of his uncle as though, near as his uncle was, the connection were not nigh so close as that between him and her. She understood it with a half understanding — feeling that in all this he was in truth making love to her, and yet telling herself that he said no more than cousinship might warrant. But the autumn colours were bright, and the river rippled, and the light breeze came down from the mountains, and the last of the wild flowers were still sweet in the woods. After a while she was able to forget her difficulties, to cease to think of Daniel, and to find in her cousin, not a lover, but simply the pleasantest friend that fortune had ever sent her.

And so they came, all alone — for Aunt Julia, though both limbs and mind were strong, had not been able to keep up with them — all alone to the Stryd. The Stryd is a narrow gully or passage which the waters have cut for themselves in the rocks, perhaps five or six feet broad where the river passes, but narrowed at the top by an overhanging mass which in old days withstood the wearing of the stream, till the softer stone below was cut away, and then was left bridging over a part of the chasm below. There goes a story that a mountain chieftain’s son, hunting the stag across the valley when the floods were out, in leaping the stream, from rock to rock, failed to make good his footing, was carried down by the rushing waters, and dashed to pieces among the rocks. Lord Lovel told her the tale, as they sat looking at the now innocent brook, and then bade her follow him as he leaped from edge to edge.

“I couldn’t do it — indeed, I couldn’t,” said the shivering girl.

“It is barely a step,” said the Earl, jumping over, and back again. “Going from this side, you couldn’t miss to do it, if you tried.”

“I’m sure I should tumble in. It makes me sick to look at you while you are leaping.”

“You’d jump over twice the distance on dry ground.”

“Then let me jump on dry ground.”

“I’ve set my heart upon it. Do you think I’d ask you if I wasn’t sure?”

“You want to make another legend of me.”

“I want to leave Aunt Julia behind, which we shall certainly do.”

“Oh, but I can’t afford to drown myself just that you may run away from Aunt Julia. You can run by yourself, and I will wait for Aunt Julia.”

“That is not exactly my plan. Be a brave girl, now, and stand up, and do as I bid you.”

Then she stood up on the edge of the rock, holding tight by his arm. How pleasant it was to be thus frightened, with such a protector near her to ensure her safety! And yet the chasm yawned, and the water ran rapid and was very black. But if he asked her to make the spring, of course she must make it. What would she not have done at his bidding!

“I can almost touch you, you see,” he said, as he stood opposite, with his arm out ready to catch her hand.

“Oh, Frederic, I don’t think I can.”

“You can very well, if you will only jump.”

“It is ever so many yards.”

“It is three feet. I’ll back Aunt Julia to do it for a promise of ten shillings to the infirmary.”

“I’ll give the ten shillings, if you’ll only let me off.”

“I won’t let you off — so you might as well come at once.”

Then she stood and shuddered for a moment, looking with beseeching eyes up into his face. Of course she meant to jump. Of course she would have been disappointed had Aunt Julia come and interrupted her jumping. Yes — she would jump into his arms. She knew that he would catch her. At that moment her memory of Daniel Thwaite had become faint as the last shaded glimmer of twilight. She shut her eyes for half a moment, then opened them, looked into his face, and made her spring. As she did so, she struck her foot against a rising ledge of the rock, and, though she covered more than the distance in her leap, she stumbled as she came to the ground, and fell into his arms. She had sprained her ankle, in her effort to recover herself.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, holding her close to his side.

“No — I think not — only a little, that is. I was so awkward.”

“I shall never forgive myself if you are hurt.”

“There is nothing to forgive. I’ll sit down for a moment. It was my own fault because I was so stupid — and it does not in the least signify. I know what it is now; I’ve sprained my ankle.”

“There is nothing so painful as that.”

“It hurts a little, but it will go off. It wasn’t the jump, but I twisted my foot somehow. If you look so unhappy, I’ll get up and jump back again.”

“I am unhappy, dearest.”

“Oh, but you mustn’t.” The prohibition might be taken as applying to the epithet of endearment, and thereby her conscience be satisfied. Then he bent over her, looking anxiously into her face as she winced with the pain, and he took her hand and kissed it. “Oh, no,” she said, gently struggling to withdraw the hand which he held. “Here is Aunt Julia. You had better just move.” Not that she would have cared a straw for the eyes of Aunt Julia, had it not been that the image of Daniel Thwaite again rose strong before her mind. Then Aunt Julia, and the curate, and Minnie were standing on the rock within a few paces of them, but on the other side of the stream.

“Is there anything the matter?” asked Miss Lovel.

“She has sprained her ankle in jumping over the Stryd, and she cannot walk. Perhaps Mr Cross would not mind going back to the inn and getting a carriage. The road is only a quarter of a mile above us, and we could carry her up.”

“How could you be so foolish, Frederic, as to let her jump it?” said the aunt.

“Don’t mind about my folly now. The thing is to get a carriage for Anna.” The curate immediately hurried back, jumping over the Stryd as the nearest way to the inn; and Minnie also sprung across the stream so that she might sit down beside her cousin and offer consolation. Aunt Julia was left alone, and after a while was forced to walk back by herself to the bridge.

“Is she much hurt?” asked Minnie.

“I am afraid she is hurt,” said the lord.

“Dear, dear Minnie, it does not signify a bit,” said Anna, lavishing on her younger cousin the caresses which fate forbade her to give to the elder. “I know I could walk home in a few minutes. I am better now. It is one of those things which go away almost immediately. I’ll try and stand, Frederic, if you’ll let me.” Then she raised herself, leaning upon him, and declared that she was nearly well — and then was reseated, still leaning on him.

“Shall we attempt to get her up to the road, Minnie, or wait till Mr Cross comes to help us?” Lady Anna declared that she did not want any help — certainly not Mr Cross’s help, and that she could do very well, just with Minnie’s arm. They waited there sitting on the rocks for half an hour, saying but little to each other, throwing into the stream the dry bits of stick which the last flood had left upon the stones, and each thinking how pleasant it was to sit there and dream, listening to the running waters. Then Lady Anna hobbled up to the carriage road, helped by a stronger arm than that of her cousin Minnie.

Of course there was some concern and dismay at the inn. Embrocations were used, and doctors were talked of, and heads were shaken, and a couch in the sitting-room was prepared, so that the poor injured one might eat her dinner without being driven to the solitude of her own bedroom.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43